By C.B. Radio
For nearly ten years now, Mike Hadreas – aka Perfume Genius – has been a pioneer of LGBT music. His first record set the stage with its highly personal subject matter: “Mr. Peterson” is an unflinching account of a troubled relationship between a 16-year-old boy and his high school teacher that’s clearly autobiographical, although Hadreas has declined to comment on its specifics. With each successive album, Hadreas chronicles what it’s like to be a gay man in America, often with uncomfortable honesty. But with his newest outing, the fantastic No Shape, Perfume Genius revels in something new: pure joy. The music is as inspiring as ever, but its relative lightheartedness hints at a new and exciting direction for the talented songwriter.
The album begins with the tinkling of a piano and Hadreas’s soft voice in “Otherside,” but everything erupts into ecstasy by mid-song as booming percussion and dreamy synths take over. By the second track “Slip Away,” it’s clear Hadreas has shaken any doubts – his songwriting skills continue to grow and he’s crafted the best one-two punch to start any album in quite some time. And where his past records featured sharp edges, there’s a newfound sweetness to nearly every song on No Shape.
Even “fuck you” tracks like “Go Ahead” sound exuberant. “Watch me / watch me walk on by” he croons. “If you need / take a moment / You can even say a little prayer for me / I’m only walking in the light.” Where his previous album Too Bright could be combative – “No family is safe when I sashay,” he hilariously remarks in “Queen” – No Shape barely addresses the haters at all.
Instead, Hadreas focuses on love. He writes almost exclusively about romantic love on No Shape, inspired by his long-term relationship with husband Alan, who’s also the namesake of the album’s last and most tenderhearted song. It’s a thrilling artistic choice for Hadreas, one that seems inevitable only in hindsight. His newfound sweetness is best heard in “Wreath,” the centerpiece of the record and clear highlight. Coupled with this new direction, Hadreas’s ear for melody provides a spark that never lets up.
Not that No Shape is without darkness. On “Sides,” Hadreas enlists Weyes Blood – who’s also featured on Father John Misty’s excellent song “God’s Favorite Customer” from earlier this year – to sing about fading love with her angelic voice. “If it aint easy to love me / cut the cord and set me free.”
But whatever trepidation Hadreas feels is outmatched by his unabashed affection and clear happiness. In the months since No Shape was released, he’s released a handful of tracks that hint at a new, more somber direction. But whatever’s next for Perfume Genius, it’s clear Hadreas has fully found his artistic voice and will continue to exploit it.